Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve)

Riley’s Camp sits in a picturesque portion of the Ivanpah Mountains, surrounded by granite hills, joshua tree and juniper woodlands, various forms of cactus, and other desert scrub. Several dirt roads traverse the area, and abandoned mines litter the mountain side. A small community of ranchers and miners once made a community here, and at the helm of that community was a gentleman by the name of John Riley Bembery.

Riley was a World War I veteran. During his tenure, he was a medic in the US Army, and taught soldiers how to use explosives. This was a skill  that he put to good use upon arriving in the Ivanpah Mountain Range in the late 1920s.

After the war, Riley settled in Los Angeles, there he became a butcher. He made several trips to the Mojave Desert, getting bit by gold fever. Riley’s career and way of life would soon change as he left the city behind, and moved to the desert to become a full-time prospector.

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - A peek inside of the assay office reveals several artifacts stacked on the shelves

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – A peek inside of the assay office reveals several artifacts stacked on the shelves

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - A peek inside of the assay office reveals several artifacts stacked on the shelves

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – A peek inside of the assay office reveals several artifacts stacked on the shelves

 

In 1928 Riley placed claims for both the Boston No. 1 and Boston No. 2.  In 1929, he added the Sunset #2 and the Sunset #3.  In 1930, he placed a whopping nine claims, The Elizabeth, Ross, Standard 2 F, Number 2 Standard, Standard 2B, Standard 2D, Standard 2E, Standard 2BB, and the Standard 2 CC. By the time of Riley’s death in 1984, he had placed 56 claims (click here for a full list).

In 1934, Riley installed a 6-foot wooden cross at the top of Sunrise Rock on the behalf of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The cross was to commemorate the soldiers that had died during WWI, something that was very close to Riley’s heart. Today we call the cross, The Mojave Cross. In recent years, legal battles have taken place to have the cross removed, it has even been stolen on an occasion. For more information on the Mojave Cross, please read my article about it.

Riley accomplished a lot in the desert, and he was well-loved and respected by those that he befriended.

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - Inside the main cabin.

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – Inside the main cabin.

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - Wood burning barrel stove installed inside of the cabin

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – Wood burning barrel stove installed inside of the cabin

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - More bottles, and other historic artifacts in the Riley Cabin

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – More bottles, and other historic artifacts in the Riley Cabin

 

His camp consisted of his home, which he kept modest with only the necessary conveniences, a small personal assay office, and a powder magazine for his dynamite.  He had a pet badger that lived under his cabin for several years, and was kind enough to feed the chipmunks, and rabbits that visited him.

In 1984, Riley passed at his daughters home in Norwalk. His remains were returned to his cabin, and buried with over 100 people in attendance.

In recent years, the main cabin has undergone a considerable amount of stabilization and restoration work. Folks traveling through are welcome to hang around, and explore the camp. The cabin is in good enough condition that many use it as a getaway cabin during their trips to the desert. The assay office is still standing, it has a true rustic charm. The shelves inside are stocked with artifacts found on the grounds by the casual visitor. Riley’s grave can be found nearby.

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - Clothing line with an amazing view!

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – Clothing line with an amazing view!

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

7 Comments

  • I love that the condition of some (if not many) of these places improves as time passes. I haven’t been to this place yet. Nice photos Jim!

  • The stove/fireplace was built just after Christmas, 2011 by John Stephenson and a group of friends. It used to have a small plate on the front where he poked out his “camp name”, “Johnny Light Speed” on it. It would light up when you lit a fire.
    It looks like someone took that plate.

  • Jim: Thanks for sharing the photos of Riley’s cabin with us. I’m one of the folks responsible for the restoration of the cabin (and a part of the Riley Bembry Brotherhood Pact, formed in 2009). We do our best to maintain the cabin and allow others to visit and enjoy the beautiful surroundings that are offered there. Your photos have captured the true life that Riley experienced when he was alive.

    I will be back at the cabin doing some more maintenance on the property October 13-16th if you have time and want to stop in to say hi. — Cheers!

    P.S. Mark mentioned Jon Stephenson built the fireplace in 2011. It was actually built in the winter of 2013 as the brotherhood was last there with him during that time. We have not seen Jon there since. We tried calling him on his cellphone, but have heard from him and hope that he is well health-wise. Last we spoke to Jon was in March of 2013, and his plans were to rebuild the lower rooms in the cabin with new flooring. Was there in October of 2013 and again in March of 2014. We have not seen any signs of Jon nor any progress of his renovations and are concerned. If you have any new info on Jon’s whereabouts, please contact me directly on Facebook.

  • Thank you jim, you take really nice photos, and the way you tell the history takes my vision to the time period. Thanks a lot !

  • UPDATE: As of April, 2015, the Brotherhood (along with support from the NPS and the Bembry Family) has added new bedframes to the side room (aka the kids room), removed many rats nests, sealed holes in the roofing, and has reinforced the kitchen floor from sagging under its own weight. We’ve also updated the “visitor’s wall” with a memorial to Riley, added updated photos, historical data, and other cool artifacts. The cabin also has its own mini museum in the family room.

    Our next major projects are to repair the concrete flooring in the family room and master bedroom, finish sealing all the rat holes in the cabin, restore Riley’s office (which people think is the cold storage room), restore the laundry facility (which people think is Riley’s lab), and repair the sagging outhouse flooring and seating. Whew!

    We currently have a Facebook Group for those who have visited the cabin and want to stay in touch with other visitors, share photos and stories, and be a part of this adventure. Just search for “J. Riley Bembry Homestead” and request to be added. Tons of photos, stories, and friendly people await your visit!

    For those that know of the homestead’s location, we ask that you keep it private by not posting its location on maps or public forums, and only share with trusted friends and/or family. Although the property is owned by the NPS and is open for anyone to visit, it is our goal to preserve and restore the property back to its original condition as if Riley himself still lived there with his family, and to allow future generations to enjoy the beautiful homestead as Riley’s family has done during their residency here.

    As an extra fun tip, most of the Brotherhood (which maintains and preserves the property) visits the homestead in the spring and fall of evey year. You’re more than welcome to join us when we’re there, and we’re always happy to have volunteers help us with repairs should you want to donate your time at the homestead!

    Thanks to all who have left their notes in the visitors log at the cabin, those who have read this writeup by DV Jim, and to those who plan on visiting this unique, historical, and memorable place I like to call my second home.

    Cheers!
    -DRS

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